Tag Archives: expensive

What Photoshop?

Not long ago I took Adobe to task for a poorly executed upgrade path from their expensive Photoshop CS5 to Photoshop CS6. Today, I am calling them on the carpet for their most egregious mistake:

Confusing the H*LL out of their potential clients with an armada of similarly named, poorly differentiated, expensive products. To the casual observer the cost of that fleet of products ranges from expensive to “I have to forego buying a camera so I can edit my photos” expensive.  Nearly daily my students ask me whether they should buy Photoshop and WHICH ONE!

The discontinuation of sale of Photoshop through normal sales channels has simplified the picture considerably since this article was originally written. The choices are:
Photoshop CC (through Creative Cloud), Photoshop Elements, and Photoshop Lightroom (Creative Cloud OR retail sales).  However it’s worth reading through the rest of this article for some historical perspective. 

Isn’t Photoshop Too Expensive?

Let me weigh in on the expensive part first.  Photoshop CS6 Standard Edition (I’ll try to disentangle what that means in a moment) ranges from about $600 at Amazon to $700 directly from Adobe it sure sounds expensive.  But if you think of it as you would  say a sweet new lens for your camera it suddenly sounds less outrageously expensive. If you are willing to invest in Adobe’s future by taking a chance on their wobbly Cloud offering you can “rent” Photoshop for as low as $50 per month (or $20 per month depending on the plan – or even as little as $10/month).

So yes, it’s expensive. The question is: will it make your photos more impressive like a $600 lens might? My answer is yes, if you’re willing to do the time learning Photoshop’s incredible awesome power and escape Photoshop’s maddening quirks.

And for the kind of photography that I do: night photography with layers and complex operations there really is no equal that I am aware of.  GIMP is a free independently written Photoshop alternative. At the moment it is limited to 8 bit operations – though a 16 bit version is in beta. For many years I couldn’t bear the outrageous price of Photoshop so I used PaintShopPro with great success. Eventually I realized that the power I wanted required a payment so I stuck my toe into Photoshop CS3. Later it was CS5 and most recently CS6.  Of course since it is my business to produce prints and teach students about night photography, I get to deduct Photoshop as a cost of doing business. That doesn’t make it cheaper, though, does it.

What Version of Photoshop?

As I noted in the opening paragraph, Adobe has really made a mess of their products.  Here is a PARTIAL list of Photoshop choices for the LATEST version and the cost of each as reported on Adobe’s website. Costs are rounded to the nearest tens.

  • Photoshop CS6 $600
  • Photoshop CS6 Upgrade $200
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended $1000
  • Photoshop CS6 Extended Upgrade $400
  • Photoshop Elements 12 $100
  • Photoshop Elements 12 Editor ?
  • Photoshop Elements 12 with Adobe Premiere Elements $150
  • Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 $150
  • Design Standard CS6  $1300
  • Design and Web Premium CS6 $1900
  • Production Premium CS6 $1900
  • Master Collection CS6 $2600
  • Creative Cloud $240/year OR $350/year OR $600/year

The underlined items are bundles that contain Photoshop in them, that’s why they are more expensive.  The items in italics are in fact not really Photoshop except in name.  Think of them as Photoshop Light with simpler interfaces and fewer features. And the above does not show the Student/Teacher pricing which is yet another kettle of smelly fish.

In a nutshell for the kind of photo processing I do, Photoshop CS6 (not Extended, and definitely not Elements) is the tool of choice.

If you’re wondering whether you need the latest version: probably not. CS3, CS4 or CS5 will do just fine if you find them discounted somewhere and are careful to buy the FULL package, not an upgrade. Beware as there are many counterfeiters and scams – only buy from a reputable company.

What Adobe Tool Do you Need?

One more frustration for me is that Adobe does a very poor job differentiating its products.  You have to be a student of Adobe to understand how Illustrator differs from Photoshop from In Design, from Lightroom, etc. Or worse if I want to make a timelapse video which tool is the best one: Premiere Pro, Premiere Elements, After Effects, Photoshop, Photoshop Extended, Encore?  It’s hard to say unless you have an PhD in the Adobe marketspace – I don’t.

But You Haven’t Mentioned Lightroom!

You noticed that, eh? I own it, but I don’t like Lightroom. The photo editing interface for Lightroom is much more intuitive than the one in Photoshop, and Lightroom lets you sort, tag, organize and catalog photos with some really great features. My pet peeve is that Lightroom is slower than a frozen slug in a snowstorm and it forces me to “Import” everything I want to work on. Lightroom doesn’t do layering which is the key thing I need for optimum photo results.  The free Picasa tool (from Google) does the cataloging, sorting and keywording I want along with less impressive, but passable photo editing.  The Picasa method for straightening photos is awesome, quick and dead simple. Besides, most everything Lightroom can do Photoshop or Photoshop plus Bridge (or Adobe Camera Raw) can do more powerfully – if you can figure it out, that is.

Still, Lightroom does provide some pretty powerful features and allows non-destructive editing. But at a cost both in $ and time.

Bottom Line?

Photoshop is powerful. You can go farther with it than without it, and best of all there are a LOT of resources around to help you learn Photoshop – like StarCircleAcademy.com and books by Harold Davis (and many others).  Unfortunately lots of resources are needed because while Photoshop is a powerful weapon it is also a many-headed monster that requires developing some good wrestling skills.


Resources for Astrophotography

Original Publication: Oct 12, 2011
Last Revised: Nov 9, 2017

Local Stores (San Francisco Bay Area)

Orion Telescope Center

10555 S De Anza Blvd
Ste 105; Cupertino, CA 95014
(408) 255-8770

Mon-Sat 10 am – 5:30 pm
Sun 12 pm – 5 pm

Equipment Recommendations

There is a lot of gear out there and a lot of thought about what is good / better / best.  For the purpose of my recommendations I’m assuming your interest is primarily Astrophotography and primarily based around using a telephoto lens or a small/lightweight telescope attached to a DSLR. Of course you might succumb to a small telescope. Most of my recommendations are based on personal experience. Some are based on observations of people much wiser than me.  If you decide to get a mount, here are representative alternatives.


Before we dive into conventional mounts, however, lets take a look a well featured, light-weight solutions.

Approach A: Good, Light and Portable


AstroTrac TT320X-AG – photo from AstroTrac site.

Since, portable, inexpensive and stable do not all fit into the same category the best solution is the AstroTrac. It is light, well made and moderately priced (from $546 to $1,959 depending on the package – not including shipping). You will be limited to using the AstroTrac with a telephoto lens on a camera unless you buy some dubious additions to turn the AstroTrac into a big scale solution – but since you’re reading this that is probably what you intended anyway. Be sure to get the Polar Scope as it is difficult to align without it! This mount will track at Lunar, Sidereal or Solar rate!  While $546 might sound expensive, for the light weight versatility it’s hard to beat. For a video and more information, see the manufacturer’s page.

Pros: Total schlep weight (tripod, heads, polar scope, battery, AstroTrac) is about 12 pounds (less if you have a lighter tripod); setup is pretty easy; accurate tracking;  maximum load is 33 pound; stops automatically to prevent damage.

Cons: Limited weight; repointing at a different object may compromise the alignment;  2 hours tracking before reset; single drive solution.

Orion Astrophotography Bundle

A possible solution – much cheaper at $180 but also with very significant limitations is the Orion Astrophotography Bundle.  It is a light weight, low load mount with a single axis drive and no alignment scope. At 14 pounds assembled and a load of up to 7 pounds it’s not bad for very wide field astrophotography – but it will never take more than a single camera load. I DO NOT recommend it. For why, please see my review.


Another product that has caught my eye is the Polarie device.  Imagine a device about the size of  a DVD slip case only about 3 times as thick.

Polarie Device with Polar scope (image from Amazon) – requires TWO heads and a tripod.

The Polarie device costs about $400 USD, but that doesn’t include the possibly unnecessary polar scope – which is an extra $250 – or a tripod rig to set it all on.  Like the Astrotrac, Polarie is light and portable and runs on conventional batteries.  A competitor is the iOptron Skytracker. Very similar features to the Polarie with a few advantages and disadvantages. The Polarie is a miss, mostly in that the scope is expensive, and requires removing the whole face. Once you put camera gear on it, the distribution of weight changes enough that the alignment via the scope is useless.  It didn’t do a good job managing my Canon 50d with a 70-200 mm lens.

iOptron Sky Tracker

iOptronSkyTracker (requires head, tripod)

Of the Polarie and the $400 Sky Tracker, I prefer the Sky Tracker. It’s better thought out.  The down side is you’ll need to remove the head from your tripod and put this in it’s place then put the head from the tripod on the face of the Sky Tracker.

The faceplate only “locks down” via that single screw. I found it sometimes slips. Also there is a little slop in the gearing. The good news is that unlike the Polarie with its expensive polar scope, you can actually mount your camera ON the face and make sure there is room to also use the scope to accurately position things.

There is a newer Sky Tracker Pro available which is more like a “real mount”. Haven’t investigated that much.

The advantage of the SkyTracker over most solutions is that it is light and easily portable.

A Canon 50d with a 70-200mm lens was more than it could manage well.


iOptron Sky Tracker Pro

We have no experience with this unit, however one of our workshop participants managed to make it work well. iOptron Sky Tracker Pro (no experience)



There is even a new contender rising in the KickStarter arena… it’s called Astro: Time-Lapse Motion Control.  It’s not clear if it will be accurate enough to track at sidereal rate, but I am hopeful.

It’s not designed for astrophotography, but if the rate can be set precisely enough, and a simple alignment done it may work quite well.  It does have a built-in intervalometer, though and as you can see it’s quite compact.

NOTE: I purchased one and found it disappointing.


Approach B: Good, Economical

The next bump up in capability is the Orion AstroView Equatorial mount ($250) to which you must add the single or dual drive ($140, recommended) motors for a total outlay of about $390. It’s carry weight is around 31 pounds including batteries but it can handle 12 pounds of payload and you may not need to use all 12 pounds of counterweight. Orion does have mounts in between, but I say skip ’em.  The disadvantage here is that it really can’t take a telescope, there is no autoguider port, and no “GoTo”. But it does come with a polar alignment scope. Tracking accuracy at sidereal rate is pretty good. I haven’t pushed the mount beyond 450 mm so I can’t make final conclusions. One advantage over a normal “tripod” is that the extra weight makes this solution much more stable than a conventional tripod. The latitudes range for use is 18-63 degrees. With some finagling I was able to physically get the angle down to 0 degrees – but you can’t track the RA axis at that angle. Two more drawbacks are that the tripod is lightweight aluminum square tubing with a plastic clamp – it’s begging to fail from overtightening, and the drive motor connectors stick out like sacrificial lambs begging to be broken off when placed down on a hard surface incorrectly.

Approach C: Serious Astrophotographer

Once you move up the value chain you will want to get a “GoTo” scope. This moves you from the $400 neighborhood to the $1400 address which gets an Orion Atlas EQ-G that can support 40 pounds of payload, and costs about 80 pounds in back buckling schlepping to move it around (22 pounds are counterweights).  The good news is a modestly sized telescope can go on this thing – you could even give your toddler a ride. The bad news is there is still plenty you’ll want to buy: an autoguider… and perhaps even a telescope. If that’s where you want to go, perhaps the best bet is the even stronger solution, the Orion Sirius EON 120mm EQ-G GoTo APO at $2800.  None of the above  include an autoguider, or the few miscellaneous parts you’ll need to attach your camera.   If you want a slightly less expensive, lighter system the Sirius mount isn’t a bad deal.

If you KNOW you’re going to put a immodestly sized scope on your mount, you might find yourself in the $4,000 district where a forklift or weightlifting team can help you move the apparatus around. Trust me, $4,000 still isn’t the penthouse suite!

Approach D: Insanely Serious Astrophotographer

Actually I can’t recommend anything in this category because it enters a realm where I’m not willing to go financially. For a down payment on a house you can get a large refractor (or reflector), massively accurate GoTo mount with autoguider, a high-end imaging camera, and a wheelbarrow full of accessories. Names like Losmandy, Takahashi, AstroPhysics and others rule this realm.

Polar Alignment

  • http://www.astronomy-pictures.com/Imaging-Tips.htm#zero
  • http://www.petesastrophotography.com/polaralignment.html
  • http://www.astronomy-pictures.com/Zeroing%20it%20in.%20Using%20a%20DSLR%20or%20CCD%20to%20Align%20Your%20Scope.pdf